Community ouf of Mission or Mission out of Community?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : November 30, 2004

Chris raised a good point in response to a previous post, that it is foolish to assume that if we all just do outreach together, real community will form.  The opposite is also true; outreach doesn’t naturally flow out of community.  All that we are called to as the church has to be done with varying degrees of intention.

However, it is very difficult to instantly start doing all that the church ought.  It takes time and energy to build towards being an authentic body of believers.  Therefore, I would like to make the case that it is better to start with a sense of mission than it is to start with a sense of community.  In other words, I believe community flows out of mission.  Otherwise, all you are left with is affinity.  This idea, that community is formed out of a common mission, is what sociologists call the principle of the "superordinate goal."  A shared overarching goal requires cooperative effort.  And this cooperative effort begins to override people’s differences and creates a new sort of affinity–one shaped by the superordinate goal. 

It is true that this goal doesn’t have to be evangelism…but our most clearly defined superordinate goal is the Great Commission (whether you look at the one in Matthew, Mark, John, or Acts).  Some churches have "authentic community" or "reconcilliation" as a sort of unstated (or stated) superordinate goal.  But I think the most effective superordinate goals for a church are ones that are missional…ones that develop their shared ethos around a shared outward goal.  But by no means should we assume that real community will happen automatically if we share the same goal.  But the building blocks will be much more available than if we didn’t start with a shared goal at all. 

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5 Responses to “Community ouf of Mission or Mission out of Community?”

  1. Chris B. on November 30th, 2004 1:32 pm

    I agree heartedly, I think you have a healthy view of mission and community. I would add that not only should community form out of mission, but part of the mission ought to be “specifying” the community, else the community will lack definition (I think a good example of this lack is Campus Crusade for Christ, which has a very clearly defined mission, but since the culture of their community isn’t part of that mission, they often have a very vague sense of their own self-identity as a community). This is why I think “Love one another” is a missional statement. Mission isn’t just about the shared outward goal, its about the deliberately defined cultural values of the community itself that I think help fuel the outward mission.

  2. Tim on November 30th, 2004 11:03 pm

    I feel like I’m coming into a conversation about 5 years too late. Can someone humor me and explain a little bit about what being a “missional” church is deferent from one that does not call itself “missional”?

    And “community”, is this not a very slippery topic? What is community?

  3. Van S on December 1st, 2004 12:47 am

    Both “missional” and “community” are indeed subjective concepts. I use the word “missional” in the way that is used by contemporary missiologists/theologians. Though many claim the word “missional,” it is usually ascribed to a certain ecclesiology developed by people such as David Bosch, Lesslie Newbigin, Darrel Guder, Craig Van Gelder, Alan Roxburgh, etc. There is a group called the “Gospel and Our Culture Network” that is perhaps the most indicative of “missional” ecclesiology ( They start with the assumption that the church doesn’t DO mission; the church IS mission, by its very nature. The Church is never at home in any culture, instead it participates with God in embodying and communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    A “missional” church isn’t a different flavor or type of church. The difference is that a “missional” church has a different definition of “church” and seeks to live out that definition in whatever culture they are in. There are some implications of doing church “missionally.” I reccommend that you read The Empirical Indicators of a “Missional Church” for an idea of those implications.

    To me, a community is any group of people who share a common ethos or culture. This is a very broad definition, but it is functional.

    So, what I am saying in my original post is that the sort of church “community” described in the New Testament must emerge out of the church’s sense of mission.

  4. blorge on December 1st, 2004 8:11 am

    As someone who grew up in a mainline church, I sometimes have a hard time with the idea of the “missional church” because my experience in both the evangelical and the mainline was that church is an affinity community and so this idea seems new, and frankly a bit contrived to me at times.

    Then again, I do buy into it, so there you go.

  5. ToddH on December 1st, 2004 11:37 am

    I think both community and public witness (whether by words or deeds) must somehow grow together. But, this discussion reminded me of something out of ch. 4 in Missional Church: “Before the church is called to do or say anything, it is called and sent to be the unique community of those who live under the reign of God.”

    Earlier in the same chapter it was suggested that evangelism move away from the idea of “recruitment” to the idea of “an invitation of companionship.” If we are going to extend an invitation of companionship to others, then we better have some sort of community for them to come to.

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